Guest post by Priyadarshini Gogoi: Spooky Origins
When I was little, my grandmother would say, “Eat up! Eat up or the jokhini will come and get you.” I would be afraid (and slightly thrilled), and would obediently gobble up my dail and aloo pitika. A jokhini is a female demon from Assamese folklore, capturing the imaginations of the young, old, and in-between alike. A jokhini has long greasy hair that hangs in tangles, sharp teeth, and feet that face backwards. Sometimes she will hide in trees and jump out at unsuspecting passersby. I was terrified and fascinated by jokhinis. My bedtime story requests—on the nights I was feeling brave enough for a horror tale—would beg for the jokhini to be featured.
The concept of ghosts thrilled and delighted me. I loved that there were so many different kinds of them, especially the Assamese ones—there was the baak, a water-dwelling demon that would jump out at you near ponds and lakes; the bura dangoriya, a very, very old ghost that guarded places of worship; the bordoisila, an angry female spirit that took the form of a storm and shook all of Assam; the puwali bhoots, child ghosts who went around making mischief and stealing food.
When I was a high schooler in a boarding school in Rajasthan, we would huddle together in our dormitories, torchlights illuminating our faces, and tell spooky stories from our respective states. Here I discovered something really interesting—many ghosts from other parts of the nation had almost identical characteristics as the Assamese ones, but were known under different names. For example, the besho bhoot of West Bengal was very similar to the naughty bamboo grove ghosts called baah barir bhut from my grandfather’s tales.
Our school hostel building was said to be frequented by a dancing ghost with shiny, red nail-polished claws and jangling anklets. It was whispered that she would catch anyone who was out of bed after lights out. Because of this, if I was ever by myself late at night and felt a sudden fear of the supernatural, I would whistle and sing happy songs really loudly, as if to trick the ghosts into thinking that I was just too carefree to get spooked. After all, no ghost would choose a person who was unspookable, right? Sometimes, I was even convinced that if a ghost did appear to me, I would become fast friends with them.
My love for the jokhini returned recently when I was eating dinner with a friend. She had cooked me a gorgeous meal, which I was taking too long to finish. “Eat up, or the jokhini will come get you!” she joked. This led me to ponder—wasn’t it sad that the jokhini was only called upon as a threat, and never during celebration? I wondered if she longed for people to say, “Hurray, happy birthday! Let’s invite the jokhini to eat cake with us!” Did she ever wish that people thought of her and felt… happy? Or did she love being terrifyingly, bone-shakingly scary? Do jokhinis have friends, I wondered. Do they have feelings?
What would happen if a jokhini did appear and instead of being afraid, people laughed uproariously? What would she do then? What happens to a jokhini who nobody is afraid of? “This is a ghost story too,” I thought. And that’s how Jokhu and the Big Scare came to be!
Read about a jokhini who couldn't be scary in Priyadarshini Gogoi's Jokhu and the Big Scare, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta.
Pre-order your copy here!